Preventing Tree and Shrub Winter Damage

By: Jennifer LaMontagne – Horticulturist – Bloch’s Farm – Green Lake, WI

Damage inflicted to trees and shrubs during the winter can drastically stunt their growth during the following summer. Oftentimes winter injury goes unnoticed until spring or even late summer when it’s often too late to remedy the situation. The key to solving these problems is prevention. You can promote healthy trees and shrubs by anticipating the damage that can be caused by weather and animals and taking preventative steps in late fall.

One type of weather damage that can occur is known as sunscald or frost cracks. This is when the rapid changes in temperature from cold nights to sunny winter days cause cracks to develop on the trunks, usually on the southern sides. The expanding and shrinking of the bark and the underlying wood is often accompanied by a loud noise, similar to a gunshot. Cracks usually heal over during the growing season, but sometimes they remain partially open and may even reopen further the next winter. This in turn, can cause cankers, or sunken areas on the trunk where the bark eventually sloughs off, exposing the wood underneath.

For healthy trees and shrubs, start by choosing varieties that are well-adapted to your climate. In late fall, you may also want to consider wrapping the trunks of young trees with tree wrap, especially those with thin dark bark. Make sure to remove the tree wrap for the spring and summer months to prevent disease. 

Animal damage is another very common problem during the winter, especially when other food sources for these animals are scarce. They can chew or gnaw bark from the trunk and lower branches. In some cases, the trunk is entirely girdled. Various methods may be used to exclude or control animals, such as deer, rabbits, and mice. These methods usually involve protecting the plants with repellant sprays, fencing, and tree guards, or controlling the animals with traps.  Bloch’s Farm is now closed for the season but feel free to call 920-294-6000 or e-mail with any questions. Don’t forget to visit our website online at and our Facebook

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